SECOND DIVISION

 

OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN,

Petitioner,

 

 

 

 

- versus -

 

 

 

 

COURT OF APPEALS and

DINAH C. BARRIGA,

Respondents.

G.R. No. 172224

 

Present:

 

CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

NACHURA,

PERALTA,

ABAD, and

MENDOZA, JJ.

 

 

Promulgated:

 

January 26, 2011

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DECISION

 

 

CARPIO, J.:

 

 

The Case

 

Before the Court is a petition for certiorari1 assailing the Resolutions dated 20 February 20062 and 16 June 20053 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 00079.

 

The Facts

Sometime in 2000, Sonia Q. Pua (Pua), a Municipal Councilor of Carmen, Cebu, filed a complaint4 with the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas. Pua alleged that Virgilio E. Villamor (Villamor), Municipal Mayor; Bebelia C. Bontia (Bontia), Municipal Treasurer; and respondent Dinah C. Barriga (Barriga), Municipal Accountant, all public officials of Carmen, Cebu, entered into several irregular and anomalous transactions in their official capacity. These transactions pertained to the handling of the trust fund of the Municipality of Carmen, Cebu in the Central Visayas Water and Sanitation Project.

 

On 7 March 2001, the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas directed the parties to submit their counter-affidavits. In their Joint Counter-Affidavit dated 9 May 2001, Villamor and Barriga denied Puas allegations.

 

In a Decision dated 28 August 2002,5 the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas found Barriga guilty of misconduct and imposed on her the penalty of six months suspension from the service. In the same decision, the case against Villamor and Bontia were dismissed for being moot and academic. At the time, Villamor was no longer the incumbent mayor of Carmen, Cebu but the municipalitys elected vice-mayor and Bontia had already been dismissed from government service pursuant to a final decision of the Office of the Ombudsman dated 19 August 1998.6

 

Upon review, petitioner Office of the Ombudsman modified the decision and found Barriga guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and imposed on her the penalty of suspension for one year.7

Barriga filed a motion for reconsideration which petitioner denied in an Order dated 2 April 2003.8

 

Later, in an Order dated 13 November 2002,9 petitioner directed the municipal mayor of Carmen, Cebu to implement the decision dated 28 August 2002.

 

Barriga filed a petition for review with the CA, docketed as CA G.R. SP No. 76958. On 7 July 2003, the petition was denied for lack of merit.10

 

Barriga then elevated the case to the Supreme Court, docketed as G.R. No. 160402. In a Resolution dated 14 January 2004, this Court denied the petition. Barriga filed a motion for reconsideration which this Court denied in a Resolution dated 17 March 2004. Barriga filed a second motion for reconsideration which this Court again denied in a Resolution dated 7 July 2004.

 

After a month, in a letter dated 10 August 2004, petitioner, through the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas, again directed the municipal mayor of Carmen, Cebu to implement the Order dated 13 November 2002.

 

In a letter11 dated 16 August 2004 addressed to petitioner, Barriga made a request that the implementation of the penalty of one-year suspension be held in abeyance pending the issuance of the entry of judgment by this Court in G.R. No. 160402. The request was denied by petitioner in a letter dated 3 September 2004.12 Barriga then challenged the said letters of petitioner with the CA through a petition for review.13

 

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court issued the entry of judgment in G.R. No. 160402 on 28 October 2004. In addition, the municipal mayor of Carmen, Cebu implemented Barrigas suspension from service through an Order dated 2 November 2004.14

 

Thereafter, in a Decision dated 18 March 2005, the CA denied Barrigas appeal. Barriga filed a motion for reconsideration. In a Resolution dated 16 June 2005, the CA modified its earlier decision and declared as null and void the orders of petitioner in the letters dated 10 August 2004 and 3 September 2004. The CA explained that the acts of petitioner went beyond mere recommendation but rather imposed upon the mayor to implement the order of suspension which run counter to its authority. The appellate court said that the immediate implementation of petitioners Order dated 13 November 2002 was premature pending resolution of the appeal. Since Republic Act No. 6770 or the Ombudsman Act of 1989 gives parties the right to appeal then such right also generally carries with it the right to stay these decisions pending appeal. Thus, the CA concluded that the acts of petitioner cannot be permitted nor tolerated. The dispositive portion of the resolution states:

 

WHEREFORE, the decision in the instant case is MODIFIED in that the Orders of the Office of the Ombudsman dated August 10, 2004 and September 3, 2004 in so far as it directed the implementation of the suspension of petitioner is declared null and void having been made beyond its authority and prematurely. Consequently, the letter of the municipal mayor of Carmen, Cebu dated November 2, 2004 implementing said order is also nullified. Petitioners immediate reinstatement is in order. No pronouncement as to costs.

 

SO ORDERED.15

Pursuant to the CAs Resolution dated 16 June 2005, the municipal mayor of Carmen, Cebu reinstated Barriga as municipal accountant in Memorandum No. 2005-99 dated 21 June 2005.16

 

Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration and raised the issue of finality of the Ombudsmans Decision dated 28 August 2002. The motion was denied by the CA in a Resolution dated 20 February 2006.

 

Hence, this petition.

 

The Issue

The main issue is whether the Court of Appeals gravely abused its discretion in nullifying the orders of the Office of the Ombudsman to the municipal mayor of Carmen, Cebu for the immediate implementation of the penalty of suspension from service of respondent Barriga even though the case was pending on appeal.

The Courts Ruling

The petition is meritorious.

Petitioner submits that the Office of the Ombudsman is possessed with jurisdiction to entertain an administrative complaint against a public official and if found guilty, has the authority to impose a penalty and implement the decision. Petitioner explains that the implementation of administrative sanctions over erring public officials is not merely advisory in nature but is actually mandatory within the bounds of law. It is absurd for the Ombudsman to only recommend a penalty to a head of office, in this case, a municipal mayor, since political independence is the element that provides integrity to its quasi-judicial findings. Petitioner adds that a municipal mayor has no authority to adopt or reject petitioners decision, as if in review, where no such recourse is provided by law.

Also, petitioner insists that the Ombudsmans Decision dated 28 August 2002 already reached finality after this Court in G.R. No. 160402 denied Barrigas second motion for reconsideration in a Resolution dated 7 July 2004. Thus, the implementation of the decision finding Barrigas administrative liability and the imposition of the corresponding disciplinary penalty should follow as a matter of course.

Section 7, Rule III of Administrative Order No. 7,17 as amended by Administrative Order No. 17,18 states:

 

Section 7. Finality and execution of decision.- Where the respondent is absolved of the charge, and in case of conviction where the penalty imposed is public censure or reprimand, suspension of not more than one month, or a fine equivalent to one month salary, the decision shall be final, executory and unappealable. In all other cases, the decision may be appealed to the Court of Appeals on a verified petition for review under the requirements and conditions set forth in Rule 43 of the Rules of Court, within fifteen (15) days from receipt of the written Notice of the Decision or Order denying the Motion for Reconsideration.

 

An appeal shall not stop the decision from being executory. In case the penalty is suspension or removal and the respondent wins such appeal, he shall be considered as having been under preventive suspension and shall be paid the salary and such other emoluments that he did not receive by reason of the suspension or removal.

 

A decision of the Office of the Ombudsman in administrative cases shall be executed as a matter of course. The Office of the Ombudsman shall ensure that the decision shall be strictly enforced and properly implemented. The refusal or failure by any officer without just cause to comply with an order of the Office of the Ombudsman to remove, suspend, demote, fine, or censure shall be a ground for disciplinary action against said officer. (Emphasis supplied)

It is clear from the provision that when a public official has been found guilty of an administrative charge by the Office of the Ombudsman and the penalty imposed is suspension for more than a month, just like in the present case, an appeal may be made to the CA. However, such appeal shall not stop the decision from being executory and the implementation of the decision follows as a matter of course.

 

Here, petitioners modified Decision dated 28 August 2002 was not only appealed by Barriga to the CA but also reached the Supreme Court. The appeal to the CA was denied in a decision dated 7 July 2003. In this Court, the appeal was denied in a Resolution dated 14 January 2004. The motions for reconsideration were likewise denied in the Resolutions dated 17 March 2004 and 7 July 2004. The decision became final on 28 October 2004.

 

Petitioner ordered the municipal mayor of Carmen, Cebu to implement the decision suspending Barriga from government service two times, one through a letter dated 10 August 2004 and the other in a letter dated 3 September 2004 denying Barrigas request for the suspension of the penalty until the date of finality of the case. However, Barriga, in order to delay the implementation of her suspension from service elevated the case once again to the CA. The CA in rendering a favorable decision in favor of Barriga nullified the Ombudsmans orders from implementing its decision.

 

The CA is incorrect. The provision in the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman is clear that an appeal by a public official from a decision meted out by the Ombudsman shall not stop the decision from being executory. In Office of the Ombudsman v. Court of Appeals and Macabulos,19 we held that decisions of the Ombudsman are immediately executory even pending appeal in the CA. As explained by this Court in the case of In the Matter to Declare in Contempt of Court Hon. Simeon A. Datumanong, Secretary of DPWH,20 this provision in the rules of the Ombudsman is similar to that provided under Section 47 of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service.21

 

Thus, the Ombudsmans order imposing on Barriga the penalty of suspension from office for one year without pay is immediately executory even pending appeal in the Court of Appeals.

WHEREFORE, we GRANT the petition. We SET ASIDE the Resolutions dated 20 February 2006 and 16 June 2005 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 00079. We REINSTATE the modified Order dated 28 August 2002 of the Office of the Ombudsman suspending Dinah C. Barriga from government service for one year without pay. Since Dinah C. Barriga already partially served her suspension from government service, the Municipal Mayor of Carmen, Cebu is DIRECTED to implement with dispatch the remaining balance of number of days of suspension from office not yet served by Dinah C. Barriga pursuant to Orders dated 10 August 2004 and 3 September 2004 of the Office of the Ombudsman in OMB-VIS-ADM-2000-0968.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

JOSE C. MENDOZA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

ATTESTATION

 

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairpersons Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Under Rule 65 of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure.

2Rollo, pp. 56-57. Penned by Justice Enrico A. Lanzanas with Justices Arsenio J. Magpale and Ramon M. Bato, Jr., concurring.

3Id. at 60-66.

4 Docketed as OMB-VIS-ADM-2000-0968, entitled Sonia Q. Pua vs. Virgilio E. Villamor, et al.

5 Rollo, pp. 69-79.

6 Id. at 70 and 74.

7 Id. at 80.

8 Id. at 86.

9 Id. at 80-81.

10Penned by Justice Martin S. Villarama, Jr. (now a member of this Court) with Justices Elvi John S. Asuncion and Mario L. Guaria III, concurring.

11 Rollo, p. 101.

12 Id. at 102-103.

13 Docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 00079 entitled Dinah C. Barriga vs. Sonia Q. Pua.

14 See rollo, p. 64.

15 Id. at 66.

16 Id. at 134.

17 Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman, dated 10 April 1990.

18 Dated 15 September 2003 and took effect on 19 November 2003.

19 G.R. No. 159395, 7 May 2008, 554 SCRA 75.

20 G.R. No. 150274, 4 August 2006, 497 SCRA 626.

21 Memorandum Circular No. 19, series of 1999; approved on 31 August 1999.

 

Section 47. Effect of Filing. An appeal shall not stop the decision from being executory, and in case the penalty is suspension or removal, the respondent shall be considered as having been under preventive suspension during the pendency of the appeal, in the event he wins the appeal.